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A Seven-Song Primer On Michael Grace Jr., New York's New Wave Cult Hero

Michael Grace Jr.'s current band, The Secret History.
Michael Grace Jr.'s current band, The Secret History.

As noted in this week's Voice, Michael Grace Jr. has the tendency to be at the right place at the wrong time. Along the way, he's amassed a formidable (secret) songbook of alienation, fading beauty and chiming guitar. In case you were never fortunate to be at the right place, here are seven of his songs that you need to know, from his humble, New Order-obsessed beginnings to the opening salvo from his forthcoming magnum opus of generational desperation.

My Favorite, "Detectives Of Suburbia"

In less than two minutes Andrea Vaughn lays out a short story, filling up every second with betrayal, paranoia, redemption and sliced-up "Blue Monday" beats on this early My Favorite single. Thus we establish the reoccurring Grace theme that the true believers can beat those phonies if they just stick together: "There are those who will sell you out/ pick you apart/ and send you away/ there are those who will say anything/ but some mean what they say."

My Favorite, "Absolute Beginners Again"

If anything, Grace showed a considerable amount of restraint by waiting until 1994 to start the New Wave revival, pleading here for life to feel as full as possibility as it did back when David Bowie was king and tortured romance was the coin of the realm.

My Favorite, "The Happiest Days Of My Life"

Giggle all you want that this band's wish fulfillment fantasy involves a girl in a pixie cut and a Smiths t-shirt delivering kisses and puppies while you're just hanging out at a coffee shop, but take a moment to appreciate the touch of melancholy in the titular chorus and the power-pop muscle they developed after a decade-plus of grinding it out in the clubs.

 

My Favorite, "Burning Hearts"

He was an architect, she was an actress. The snow made them glow in the dark. What could go wrong?

My Favorite, "Homeless Club Kids"

Fun Fact: For a time Grace Jr. worked at the now-defunct Long Island Voice with John Mancini, a somewhat notorious former New York Post headliner writer. "I learned a lot, actually, from him," Grace Jr. told me. "Even though I loathed that process, I actually ended up stealing song titles and lyrics from bits of tabloid headlines for, like, the next ten years." One of those headline-to-song titles transitions was used on one of the finest songs My Favorite ever cut. They took their lumps for being precious or whatever, but these guys could cook up a mean groove when they felt like it, and had guitar flash to spare. Any self-respecting homeless club kid would be psyched to move to this.

The Secret History, "Johnny Anorak"

In a way, this song is both a salute to every "Johnny" that's ever been immortalized in a song and every girl who loved (or had to put up with) that boy, but it's also about the idea of songwriting iconography, and finding that the romantic notions that underpin all songs often make more sense than the real world. And it's also about how that's not always healthy. Also, take a moment to appreciate Lisa Ronson's vocal here; she was quite literally born to sing in a band like this.

The Secret History, "Sergio"

Grace Jr. said his goal with this track was to capture the hazy, escapist "life's a beach" vibe so prevalent in indie rock today, and then sneak in a story about class struggle and hopelessness ("they stole the future"). To hammer the point home, there's even a tip of the hat to Springsteen toward the end, because you're all but obligated to do such a thing when singing about economic inequality. If you like the song, consider chipping in a few bucks for a download; all money will help the band finish off their forthcoming story-song cycle Americans Singing In The Dark.

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